Landmarks: The Roundhouse

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The Independent Culture
Coming down the hill from Hampstead to Camden Town you are confronted by a large circular brick building with a huge conical slate roof. This is the Roundhouse, a wonderful white elephant designed by Robert Stephenson and built in 1847 as an engine shed. The roof is supported by a ring of cast-iron columns. Its beauty lies in its pure functionalism and economy.

Anyone who enjoyed the London arts scene in the Sixties and Seventies will know the Roundhouse as a unique performance space and its loss for this use is tragic. It was draughty and uncomfortable and the acoustics were difficult but it was the perfect rough theatre. There is a school of theatre based on Peter Brook's book The Empty Space which firmly believes that theatre can be too polished. The Roundhouse exemplifies this idea.

A new consortium is now trying to revive the building as a performance space, but the fact that I haven't heard of any of the architects involved is a little strange and I'm worried that they're once again taking the wrong advice on the way forward, as happened with the notorious Black Arts Centre scheme, when a lot of money disappeared into a doomed project. Personally, I would urge those behind the latest project to let the character of the building speak for itself and put back the balconies, which were misguidedly removed by the conservationists because they were not original. There is a growing movement towards this type of rough performance space, highlighted by the success of the Tramshed in Glasgow. The Roundhouse could fill a gap perfectly.

Tim Foster lives and works in London. His design work includes the Tricycle Theatre, the Gate Theatre and the extension of the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend- on-Sea

(Photograph omitted)

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